The brave ride streetcars to jobs early in the morning, have traffic accidents, rob banks. The brave have children, relationships, mortgages. The brave never write these things down in notebooks. The brave die and they are dead. -- Daniel Jones
Poetry, death and bravery all come rushing to the mind and along with them these beautiful lines from the first and only book by the legendary Canadian poet who died, rather killed himself, in 1994, when he was only 33.
This was about the same age when our much-loved poet of Punjabi, Shiv Kumar Batalvi, died of cirrhosis of the liver following prolonged and intense drinking. The drinking was as intense as his verses, encased in so many anthologies. The name of Jones’ famed collection The Brave Never Write Poetry (1985) enjoyed a cult status even though the poet himself rubbished it later. The poems chronicle his hometown Toronto and, as a critic says, are set in crowded bars and quiet cafes, the backseats of streetcars and unmade beds, drunk tanks and psych wards.
Jones writes in the introduction to this anthology that in his 20s he found himself “alone, drinking too much, dirt poor and in debt.” As a result, he had to be admitted to the psychiatry ward of Toronto Western Hospital. He wrote these poems after being discharged and never drank again, but all his young life depression was his constant companion.
This particular poem quote above I had read way back in 1987 when exiled Russian poet Joseph Brodsky quoted it when he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. It has always remained embedded in some corner of the heart but now it came alive when thoughts turned to a very brave young woman who died when she was but 23.
Yes, Neerja Bhanot who died but is not dead and who I would say wrote poetry not with thoughts collected in words and written in notebooks as Jones, Brodsky and many or their gifted tribe do but with her life.
With the biopic bandwagon moving full blast in present times, many filmmakers were keen to do the Neerja story and many comely actors wanting to play it but the role finally went to Sonam Kapoor who showed great passion for it.
The story, as most living in the city would know as her family is based here, was that she was the chief purser with Pan Am who was killed by terrorists as she tried to save passengers of the hijacked Pan Am Flight 73 on September 5, 1986.
Neerja sacrificed her life and became the youngest recipient of the country’s highest civilian award, the Ashok Chakra.
Sonam says: “There are times in an actor’s career when a very special role in a special motion picture comes your way. The biopic of Neerja Bhanot is one such. I feel honoured and humbled to have the opportunity to essay the role of India’s youngest Ashoka Chakra awardee.”
So dear Daniel Jones, how does one reconcile poetry, bravery and death? You undermined yourself because you showed bravery in penning the most painful words in poetry; Sonam shows bravery in playing the act and Neerja showed sheer bravery in the poetics of life.